Photo by Felipe Salgado on Unsplash

How To Celebrate Someone Who Doesn’t Like Birthdays

Show you care by doing things differently

Andy Taylor
May 8 · 5 min read

There are plenty of people in the world who find it hard to be happy on days the rest of the world want them to be. Mother’s Day is hard if you’ve lost your own mother, or a child. Christmas is a problem for way more people than we realise. And as for birthdays…

If, like me, you don’t like being the center of attention, and the passing of another year brings unhappy self-reflection, then birthdays aren’t great.

But, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn't celebrate people. In fact, it’s even more important we make an effort to recognise those who don’t like their own birthdays. Trust me, someone in your family or friendship group falls in to this category, they probably just don’t want to make a fuss (it’s that “center of attention” thing again).

Here are three ideas for how you can still make someone special to you feel special… just not on their birthday:

Pick A Passion And Share It

What are we actually trying to say when we wish someone Happy Birthday, scrawl our name on a card and promise to buy them a drink at the bar later on? We’re trying to say that we value them. We’re glad they’re in our life. The world is a better place with them around.

Here’s a clue — there are a load of way better ways to express those feelings and opinions than with the standard birthday card-present-drinks routine.

You know this person. You understand them. You can write a list of 3 things they love to do, or talk about. So pick one, and, at a random date away from their birthday, suggest you share some time with them doing that activity.

“One of the most beautiful qualities of true friendship is to understand and to be understood.” — Lucius Annaeus Seneca

It could be anything — a walk on the beach, a trip to their favourite pub or coffee shop, a re-watch of a film they love. By demonstrating that you know what they like, then giving your time to sharing that with them, you show them how important they are to you.

If you like, when you tell them of the plan, you can always say “I know your birthday isn’t easy for you — I planned this back then, but thought you’d like to do it now — Happy Birthday”

Send A “Remember That Time” Memory

Friendships are based on shared experiences. The beauty of these collective memories is that, like a growing investment, their importance increases with time. If the right song plays in the company of the right person, it’s like you just invented time-travel. Right back you go, to University, to school, to that unforgettable road trip.

This is a great avenue to explore if you want to contact your non-birthday loving friend on their birthday… but not say “Happy Birthday”.

“Nothing sounds as good as “I remember that.”” — Paddy McAloon

Instead of sending a birthday card, communicate in a different way. It could be an email (with a photo attached) or a voice message, even a video message where you recall a shared experience. Give your side of story (everyone recalls their common “famous moments” differently” and get creative — find the old t-shirt in the closet, play the song on the speaker.

What you’re saying by doing all this is that you remember, and value, the special memories you have created together. Often it will kickstart an exchange of reminiscenses that bring to mind past happiness and future reunion.

Photo by Jorge Saavedra on Unsplash

Discover Something Together

Birthdays, especially as people get older, tend to look backwards. All the jokes on the cards are about getting old. The banter focuses on what you can’t do any more, or what you used to be like. This can feel uncomfortable to a lot of people.

So, flip the script. Wish your friend a relative a happy birthday by focusing on the future. This approach is almost the opposite of the “remember that time” memory idea. Instead of re-treading old ground, it’s all about making a fresh discovery together.

There are few bigger compliments you can give someone than asking them to be your partner on an adventure. It says you trust them to help you if things get tough or weird, and that you want to share the joy of discovery together.

“I have learned that to be with those I like is enough.” — Walt Whitman

Pick an activity, place, style, time, look that is different and unpredicatable. Maybe you’ve always wanted to try rock-climbing, or salsa dancing, or there’s a part of the country you’ve never visited. Invite them to come with you.

The point is that it isn’t about them. That’s a good thing. Often people struggle with birthdays because they don’t want to impose on others, they hate the idea that anyone might be doing something (including marking their birthday) out of a sense of duty.

But involve them in something you want to do… that’s exciting, inviting and a real gift.

If you suspect someone you know doesn’t like their own birthday, then try one of these three techniques to show them that you care, in a different way:

  • Pick a passion of theirs and share it — you’re saying “I get you and I want to join in”
  • Send a “remember that time” memory — you’re saying “We go way back, and we’ve still got more to come”
  • Discover something together — you’re saying “Having you with me makes things more fun”

Not everyone loves their own birthday. I should know, it’s mine today.

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